Bureaucratic Reform and a New Style of Corruption

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By: Donny Syofyan

Bureaucratic reform aiming at eradicating corruption within government institutions is less than satisfying. The Directorate General of Taxation, as one of the pioneers of implementing the country’s bureaucratic reform, has again been rocked by a corruption scandal allegedly committed by one of its officers.

Prosecutors at the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) named Dhana Widyatmika, who was transferred from the Directorate General of Taxation to the Jakarta Tax Office, a suspect in a corruption investigation after it was found that he had allegedly amassed more than IDR 100 billion (US$11 million).

Dhana’s wife, who is also a tax official, was mentioned as having at least IDR 60 billion in her accounts. Prosecutors began to investigate the couple after the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (PPATK) reported suspicious transactions linked to Dhana’s accounts. The Law and Human Rights Ministry’s immigration directorate has imposed an overseas travel ban on Dhana until Aug. 21 this year.

The case of corruption suspect Dhana Widyatmika, who has been dubbed “the next Gayus” — in reference to former junior taxman Gayus Tambunan who has been convicted for graft — conveys the message to us that bureaucratic reform in Indonesia has not necessarily removed corruption embedded in the red tape. It is tempting to say that what is going on is merely half-hearted reform, which has been and still is producing a new style of corruption carried out by young people. Gayus and Dhana are both young civil servants, being below 50 years of age.

Effective internal control has not run optimally on account of an imbalance between the monitoring of violations and strengthening employees’ performances. Many believe bureaucrats’ better performances are a result of bureaucratic reform. Yet, various policies and programs of bureaucratic reform have likely failed to take serious note of suspicious transactions and the fat bank accounts belonging to tax officials. The Directorate General of Taxation and tax offices have relied far too much on their officials’ wealth reports that are conducted once-a-year, and have failed to conduct regular supervision of its officials.

Such a tendency sounds “sloganistic” since the discourse of bureaucratic reform of tax offices simply reappears every time corruption strikes the institution. As a matter of fact, scandalous corruption will decrease in an agency as long as it has strong people committed to eradicating corruption from within the agency. However, those committed figures can have little or no effect in a war on corruption without the enforcement of strict penalties against senior-level managers as well. Sweeping bureaucratic reform cannot be separated from leadership.

Whatever the reasons put forward by Dhana, people will find them hard to believe. Why would he be working in a government office if, as he claims, he is a successful businessman? How come he has so much money while he is not a high-ranking government official? It is professional suicide to try to be a solo player in financial abuse and exploitation. No person abuses and misuses his or her power single-handedly.

With Dhana insisting that his wealth comes from his own businesses, he is actually trying to toy with circular reasoning. It is true that he was found guilty of having two ID cards for different occupations: civil servant and businessman. This finding only reinforces the notion that his clarification is nothing more than superficial absurdity and a defense mechanism.

It is likely that Dhana is implicated in money-laundering activities. His side businesses comprise a showroom and minimarket, for example, which are suspected of receiving illegal money in an attempt to avoid suspicion and detection. While avoiding suspicion refers to the need to remove all traces that may indicate criminal activity and dirty money, avoiding detection refers to the need to shield the money from attempts to confiscate it. The two motives are eventually revealed, thanks to a perfect match between the AGO and the PPATK.

Strengthening the whistle-blowing system, particularly in the Directorate General of Taxation or tax offices, is increasingly necessary as a bottom-up approach to fighting corruption. Furthermore, advocacy for the whistle-blowing system plays a pivotal role in removing privileges from corruption perpetrators. Despite its small steps, such as a complaint box and short message service (SMS), a whistle-blowing channel needs to be secured and guaranteed as a part of maintaining a code of ethics.

The directorate general of taxation and tax offices may involve or collaborate with the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK, Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi) to organize the online service to encourage whistle-blowers to come forward. The online system is intended for whistle-blowers who do not want their identities revealed. Of course, anyone using the service must have adequate information to back up their allegations on corruption in tax offices.

According to the various studies and measurements undertaken by the KPK, it is apparent that the code of ethics, as an instrument against corruption, is not yet a primary object of attention in the majority of government institutions. The awareness of heads of ministries or government institutions to establish a code of ethics to prevent corruption is still very low. The implementation of a code of ethics among civil servants would help enhance the integrity of individual members and assist them in safeguarding their institutions’ integrity. When state personnel work according to ethics, all the potential for corruption can be minimized.

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Notice: This opinion article is displayed in an online newspaper, The Jakarta Post, in Jakarta, Indonesia, on March 5, 2012. It is able also to be searched at: www.thejakartapost.com [accessed in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia: 6 March 2012].

The writer is a Lectures at the Faculty of Cultural Sciences UNAND (Andalas University) in Padang, West Sumatera, Indonesia.

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